Predicting Love


Love is never predictable. When we’re young, we think we’ll fall in love with the perfect specimen of boyfriendness or girlfriendness. We think someone we have a crush on will be “the one” and life will be filled with rainbows and unicorns.

Then we meet someone kind and attractive and gentle and BAM. Not expected, not predicted, but there you have it.

Love.

I thought that after having been married to the same BAM guy for 39 years, and after loving and raising three children, that love would be exactly what I expect it to be.

I thought that love would be more predictable.

Two years ago, when my first child gave birth to her first child, I fell head over heels in love well before the baby was born. I intellectually loved her. I loved the idea of her, the fact of her existence, the philosophical meaning of her new life.

But as she grew, and became our funny, smart, loving little Ellie, I have fallen ridiculously, madly in love with her. I love her eyebrows, for God’s sake. I love her toes. I love the skin that gathers salty sweat in the folds of her neck. I love her breath and her teeth and her ankle bones.

I’m insane.  My whole world has been filled with Ellie.

Then, three weeks ago, her baby brother was born.

He is perfect and sweet and sleepy and he smells like a baby. I love the idea of him. I love the philosophical meaning of his life.

But you know what? Even when I held him on his first day, I wasn’t feeling that crazy kind of love. Even when I’ve been at his house to help change and care for him, I have only had eyes for Ellie.

I have been one very guilt-wracked Nonni, believe me. How could I not be feeling the same crazy depth of love for Johnnie that I had felt from the very first moment for his sister?

I didn’t know.  It didn’t make sense.

I knew that I would take good care of him, and would love him and play with him. But would I ever fall in love with him, the way I had with Ellie?

Today my son Tim and his sweet lady were here for dinner. My daughter and her family came, too. We sat outside on this gorgeous summer day, and Ellie played in the pool and picked strawberries with Papa.

We ate, we drank some beer, we talked and laughed and watched the Red Sox. It was loud and hectic and busy. It was fun!

But then, when dinner was over, everyone left to see a concert. Everyone except for me, Ellie and Johnnie and their mommy. Ellie went to take a nap, and her Mom went in to lie down with her.

The house was quiet, except for the whirring of the window fans. The dogs were asleep on the floor. A hummingbird was at the feeder.

Johnnie was in my arms, resting against my chest. One of my hands held his bottom, the other was curled around the back of his warm, silky head. He was murmuring and sighing, making the tiny noises of a newborn child.

I felt my heart beating against his. I breathed in his breath.

The house was quiet. I touched my lips to his cheek just as he touched his to my neck.

BAM.

There it was.

It isn’t rational, or explainable, this love for my grandchild. The words I am wrapping around it are only the faintest echo of the explosion that I felt.

My cells, my DNA, my soul were pierced by his weight in my arms.

I know. I’m crazy.

But love is unpredictable. Sometimes, like the love of a Nonni for her grandson, we know that it will strike us at some point.

It’s just that we can’t always say when.

BAM, little Johnnie. Welcome to my heart.

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Worth The Effort?


What is it that gives a person “worth?” I’m old enough, and self aware enough, to know that worth is not measured by money.

Hey, I was a teacher! I’m married to a therapist. Money has never been our goal.

But what is it that lets us move through our days with a sense of self-worth?

At the tender and transitional age of 61, I’m struggling with this question once again.

You see, I used to find my sense of worth from my work. I have always worked, and had a purpose.

When I was only 22, I was a Russian interpreter. I took new immigrants to the doctor. I sat in therapy sessions, helping patient and doctor to understand each other. I helped with surgery, translating what the doctor wanted the patient to do during cataract surgery and cardiac catheterization.

I even helped to interpret at a baby’s birth. I was valued. I felt my worth.

Later, I became a speech pathologist, a job I held for 20 years. I helped families learn how to communicate with their disabled children. I helped those children to find their voices.  I was valued. I knew that what I was doing was helpful and important.

And after many years I became a teacher. I taught fifth graders. I was a fun teacher. I was funny. I made learning interesting. No matter what, I will always know that I was very good at my job.

I felt so good about myself in those years. I felt worthy.

Then things changed. I lost my teaching job, and moved into retirement.

And this is where the question of worth has reappeared. When I have my granddaughter in my arms, I know that I am the most important person on earth. Ellie needs me. Ellie loves me. I am NONNI.

But it’s summer.

Ellie is home with her Mom and Dad and new baby brother. They are close by. I see them almost every day. I love them all more than I could ever express.

But.

Now I have no role. I have no job. I have no way to measure my worth in this lovely world.

So, dear blog readers, I guess I’m fishing. (Phishing?)

Now I wonder, is a gray haired lady still useful if she isn’t physically able to manage her garden by herself? Is she still worth keeping if her husband works hard every day while she stays home and cleans things?

Does it count that this house has NEVER been this clean? Or that the closets are completely organized?

What do I do with myself on these long days? How do I define myself?

Is it legal to actually have three months of vacation while everyone else is working?

I swear, in September I will be back to working hard. I’ll have both two year old Ellie and three month old Johnnie. My arms, my heart and my day will all be full.

But.

What about now? Do I earn some kind of Donna Reed points for the incredibly clean kitchen cabinets and the very fluffy towels in the bathroom? I was raised by one of the first feminists. I know that just being a “homemaker” isn’t an actual role in life.

But what else do I do while I’m waiting to go back to Nonni extraordinaire? How do I feel good about so many days where nothing is actually accomplished?

Sigh.

I have to admit. I think I’m nuts. I hate the fact that I do this to myself.

On the other hand, if anyone needs any alphabetized spices, come on over.

 

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Poor useless Nonni

It was the dowels


I was at my Mom’s house today.

At 87, she still lives in the house where she and Dad raised me and my five siblings. The house is getting old, but my parents were always careful and attentive, so it’s still in very good shape.

But there are corners, little places, where the effects of time are more obvious.

We used to have a beautiful pool in the backyard, surrounded by a paving stone deck that my Dad built. There were little round tables and wrought iron chairs where we’d sit under colorful umbrellas to have a snack and rest from swimming. There were redwood recliners and little wooden planters that my Dad built himself.

And there was a wonderful “pool shed” in the back of the fenced area. In the summer, my parents would set up a long table for parties and barbecues. We’d line up, in our dripping suits, towels casually slung over shoulders. Everyone would grab a plate and fill it with beans, salad, grilled sausages, chicken, burgers and dogs. There’d be coolers and tubs of ice cold drinks, and my sister and her husband would have huge tubs of Italian ice for dessert.

In the fall, that pool shed would become storage for the pool toys, the water wings, the chairs and the fish shaped placemats. The pool would be covered, the pavers washed, and everything tucked away neatly until the following spring.

The pool has been gone for about ten years now. As my parents got older, and Dad had health problems, the upkeep became too much. And they no longer swam or sat in the sun.

So the pool was taken out, the land was filled. A beautiful perennial garden was planted, with flowers and dwarf trees creating a spot of serenity behind the house. There was still space for the tables and chairs, the umbrellas, the placemats.

And the pool shed remained, its wooden doors occasionally opened for barbecues. We didn’t drip as we stood in line any more, but we still gathered and laughed and ate. We are Italians; we had wine and we still had wonderful food.

But the years have gone by. Dad left us in 2008. The garden is a little overgrown, in spite of our best efforts, with the roses and the lilac fighting for space. The redwood chairs have broken down and are gone. The tables are getting rusty.

And the pool shed has become the home of squirrels, mice and probably a whole group of unknown invaders. It has slowly seen the life vests and pool noodles chewed up and piled into nests.

This spring we decided it was time to really clean it out, once and for all. Big, black, plastic trash bags were filled with chewed up placemats, old citronella candles, chair pads, floats and plastic table cloths. Piles of molding paper, pill bugs, spiders and mouse poop were scooped up and deposited in the bags.

The pool shed is clean. It is empty of the old, the useless, the faded and torn.  It is empty of the past.

Even though I cried as I cleaned it, I was proud that we brought it back to a state that would make Dad happy.

So today I was at my Mom’s. A clean up company was coming to haul away all the old junk and trash that we had piled up. I was standing in the garage, making sure I knew what was supposed to go.

I was looking at the shelves. The rows of paint brushes, arranged by size. Untouched since 1995, but arranged by size. I picked up a roll of old tape, no longer sticky, no longer of use.

I tossed it in the trash with a feeling of accomplishment. Mom came in. We started to look through the stuff in the garage. In Dad’s garage. In the place where I know I can always find my father, although I find his gravesite empty.

We slowly and carefully took down a few small items. A roll of some kind of sticky felt paper. A gummed up, unopenable can of “goo gone”.  I tossed them in the trash.

Then I looked up. To the top shelf. To the highest of the 3 shelves Dad had built for his garage. There were boxes of items, mostly shoeboxes. Each was carefully marked.

“Mom” I said with firmness. “We can probably get rid of the box marked ‘adhesives’.” I knew that whatever was in there wasn’t going to adhere to much of anything anymore.

Mom didn’t answer. Instead, she pointed to the next box on the shelf. “What are those?”

I looked up. It was an old shoebox, closed tightly. On the side, in my Dad’s careful handwriting, was the single word “dowels.”

Who else except my Dad, the world’s more organized and careful handyman, would have a shoebox marked “dowels?” I stood there. Mom stood beside me.

“I guess it has dowels,” I said. Mom didn’t answer for a minute.

“Let’s just leave this,” she said.

I have never agreed with my Mom more than I did right then. I wiped my tears with dusty fingers, then reverently replaced the ‘adhesives’ box.

I think we were almost ready to let some of it go. But we were stopped by that one word. “dowels”

We miss you, Dad. I’m not even sure what a dowel is, but I can’t throw yours away,

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My Dad


My Dad could fix anything. He fixed pipes, cars, broken toys, cracked walkways.

He was a builder. He built shelves and storage sheds. He created furniture and toys and additions on the house. His hands were sure and capable. He frowned when he worked, puzzling over a problem, a pencil always over his left ear.

On Saturdays, he’d work in the yard. He would weed, screen loam, spread grass seed, prune the bushes. There always seemed to be something for him to be doing.

I remember him coming in for lunch, in a white t shirt or a sweatshirt, that pencil still on his ear. We would have Italian cold cuts. Mortadella, salami, capicola, provolone cheese. He’d put hot peppers on his sandwich if he had a cold.

On hot days, Dad would sprinkle salt into his beer. I never asked why, but in my childhood it seemed like a right of passage.

Dad could make pancakes. On Saturday mornings he’d let my Mom sleep in a bit, and he’d sit with his kids watching the Three Stooges and the Little Rascals. He’d sit on the floor, his back against the couch. We would perch on his legs and nestle into each side of him.

He’d laugh. Loud and exuberant, unrestrained, big open mouthed guffaws at the antics on TV.

Then he would make us pancakes.

Eventually, Mom would come down the hall, in her robe. Dad would always grab her and kiss her with the ardor of a teenager. “Isn’t she beautiful?” he’d ask his wide eyed children.  We readily agreed.

Dad was patient. He tried like a saint to teach me the concept of algebra. I never mastered it, but he never gave up.

Dad was generous. He was honest. He had more integrity than anyone I’ve ever known.

When my Father died, the line to get into his wake was so long that it wrapped around the building. People he’d known for years mixed with people he’d met in his job. They came with thanks, and they came with sadness. They came to tell us how much he’d meant to them.

Our Dad was loving. His adored our Mother, the love of his life. He loved all six of each children, and every one of his grandchildren. He made time for us. He listened.

I see him in the dark brown eyes of my granddaughter, and I see him in each of my children. I hear his voice as I walk in the quiet woods. I feel his breath on my cheek as I drift to sleep with a baby in my arms.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

I love you.

Why Do They Call This “Political”?


I spent today, like so many others, listening and watching as the news outlets covered the shooting in Virginia. Congressmen were shot, so the coverage was intense and constant.

I have to write down some what I’m feeling. Otherwise, you know, I’d probably explode in a shower of tear soaked sparks.

It was terrible. It’s a terrible, horrible, awful thing for innocent people to become targets for angry, sick, armed lunatics. When I heard the news breaking this morning I cried. I held my hand over my mouth. I shook my head.

It’s so awful. It should NOT be happening.

Now its a few hours later. I’ve been listening to the men who went through the ordeal.

These middle aged men, some of them military veterans, were on TV, fighting tears. They were talking about how surreal it was. How much they feared for each other, and for themselves. How they thought about their families, wanting to see them again.

These men, one after the other, are shaken, upset, angry and filled with the natural need to process all of this.

My heart goes out to them.

But.

This happens every day.

Every. Day.

Multiple times every day, someone in this country is faced with the surreal situation of being in the presence of an angry shooter.

I think about the children living in America’s cities who have been in their very own bedrooms when shots go off right outside their windows. I think about how horrified those little ones must be, every single damn day.

I wonder if those Congressmen are thinking about these kids?

This morning I heard one of the shaken Congressman saying that he felt like he was a “sitting duck” in the first base dugout. His voice was trembling, he was taking deep breaths as he told his story. I heard the sympathetic voice of the reporter, clearly feeling empathy for the Representative.

That’s when I really stared to cry. To sob, with the back of my hand against my lips. “Sitting ducks”, just waiting to be shot and waiting to die. My mind filled with the image of trembling, terrified victims, suddenly faced with a madman and his gun. Knowing that they were about to die.

But I didn’t see middle aged Congressmen. I didn’t.

I saw first graders. I saw kindergarten students. I saw babies, huddling in terror on the floor of their classroom, crying to their terrified young teacher. Asking her to save them.

I saw my students, looking to me for an explanation after Newtown.

I thought about all the guns, the tens of millions of guns that have flooded this country. I thought about all the times a gun has been used to massacre the innocent.

And I thought about those security officers. How they have to go to work every day knowing that there could be a shooter on any corner. In any building, at any event, on any day. They are surrounded by guns. I thought about how they must feel going to work. How their parents and their spouses and their children must feel.

So I am once again thinking, and praying, and hoping that at last we might see our lawmakers address the need to control our guns.

But if I bring it up, or if anyone does, we are told “this is not the time to politicize” this tragedy.

So here’s my question.

What’s political about wanting to be safe in my own neighborhood?

How is it partisan to think people should be safe at baseball practice? Or to want my grandchildren safe at the park?

See, I don’t think that controlling how many guns are out there is political. I don’t think passing laws about what kinds of weapons can be carried around our cities is partisan.

I think its time to question our obsession with outshooting the bad guys.

It’s not political. It’s logical.

 

Sad!


I love politics, as sickening as it is. I generally spend a fair amount of time reading about policy, and about legislation.

I’ve been deeply immersed in the insanity that has unfolded in this country over the past year. I have written about it on LiberalAmerica and here in this blog. I’ve talked, argued, debated, read, shed a lot of tears.

Almost thirty years ago, with my baby girl in my arms, I watched most of the Iran-Contra hearings. I was riveted.

Last week, I watched every single minute of the Comey hearing. It was moving, interesting, powerful.

Now I’m trying, to the best of my ability (cough, cough), to watch the “testimony” of our current Attorney General and for the very first time in my 61 years of life, I must tell you that I am in complete despair for our government and the country.

What I am watching is a room full of people who have been elected to take care of US, to guide the laws of OUR COUNTRY. They are all, Democrat and Republican, sitting in that room because people trusted them to look out for our best interests.

Instead, every one of them is trying to achieve their own agendas.

To watch adults, professionals, highly paid officials, living off of our tax money, engaging in this kind of name calling, finger pointing, griping, sniping and flat out lying is beyond disgusting.

I can’t remember the last time I was this disheartened about the country that my grandparents sacrificed so much to join. I am so sad to see the self-serving arrogance on display from the leaders of this nation that was born out of such high hopes.

I know that the Constitution was written during the age of enlightenment, when educated people believed in the best instincts of man. That Constitution opened with these moving words:

“We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Nobody involved in this mess seems to be working toward any kind of union, much less a more perfect union. None of them seem to want to insure domestic tranquility or promote our general welfare. I sure as hell don’t see anybody in this hearing room who is thinking about the blessings of liberty for our kids and grandkids.

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Image by DonkeyHotey via Flickr.

What I see is one giant clusterfuck of a mess. We are watching hours and hours and millions of dollars being spent on people who are still arguing about Hillary Goddamn Clinton, who LOST the election. We are watching grown men and women who are only interested in making themselves and their team look better than the other team.

This hearing was designed to get to the truth about the FACT that the Russian government attacked us.

But that fact hasn’t even been fully acknowledged by the whining little fool of an Attorney General who seems to have a worse memory than my 87 year old mother.

I am so sad for the United States. I am so worried for my children and my grandchildren.

This country is done. Cooked. Stick a fork in us.

If we can’t find a way to form at least three or five new political parties, we’re going to find ourselves mired in more of this knee-deep bullshit.

Meanwhile, in case anyone is interested, our health insurance system is about to be blown up. The world is getting hotter, but we’re not going to do a single thing about it. And our hard earned tax dollars are flowing by the billions to Saudi Arabia so they can continue to drop bombs on Yemeni families who are busy dying of cholera.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be drunk under the back deck.

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Summertime, and everything is different.


For all my life, the end of the school year meant a celebration of freedom. Summer! Cook outs! Baseball and hot dogs and fireflies and s’mores. Camping and swimming and beautifully scary thunder storms.

As a young working mom, my work schedule tied to the academic year, summer meant time to reconnect with the people I loved most in all the world. It meant sleeping later, making piles of pancakes, watching cartoons together in the morning. Summer meant days at the lake, days at the ocean, days of running the hose into the sandy part of our back yard. It was all about growing tomatoes and eating them as they ripened. Snakes and bees and butterflies.

Summer, back then, meant time to hold children close and pretend that they would never, ever, grow up and away.

But now I am in my Nonni years. My world has turned upside down. Now the days of snuggling over breakfast and walking in the woods are the days of fall and spring. Now it’s the cold, wet days of winter that mean time to cuddle and read and bake cupcakes together.

Now everything is reversed.

When summer comes, in the world of this Nonni, my role as beloved and needed comes to a sudden crashing end.

Suddenly, Mommy is home. Mommy, the teacher, the woman who looks at summer with the same grateful eyes that I once had. Mommy knows that summer means a celebration of freedom. It means cookouts, baseball, fireflies and s’mores. For Mommy, summer means a time of reconnection, a time to reassure her babies and herself that she is the one who bring safety and security and love to a world that is filled with beautiful and scary thunderstorms.

Now Nonni steps back, catches her breath, and tells herself that all is just as it should be. Now is my time to rest, to reconnect with my own true self. To write and read and divide the perennials.

Now is the time for Nonni to look forward, for the first time in her increasingly long life, to the crisp days of fall. The days of cool sun, pumpkins, fresh apples. The days when Mommy will go back to work. And Nonni will once again take her place in the kitchen, teaching the little ones to bake an apple pie.

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I think we’re missing the point…


If you have followed this blog at all, or if you know me, you will no doubt realize that I watched the entire James Comey testimony today.

In fact, I also watched the pre-event coverage, the ongoing coverage, the follow up coverage. And as I listened and watched, I clicked back and forth between Twitter and Facebook.

I am a very nimble multi-tasking lefty Nonni political junkie.

But as the evening comes on, and I sit here trying to put it into some perspective, I’m left with a few questions and a few impressions that I’m not seeing on the (cough, cough) “Main stream media”.

My first “Huh” moment came when I realized that the freakin’ RUSSIANS attacked our national election. And this is NOT what we’re talking about!!!! As we used to say back when I was a Soviet Studies major “што такое???”

As in, “What the hell???”

I mean, we have been informed that the country that has been our key adversary since 1945 has attacked the very fabric of our democracy, attempting to influence our election and weaken our self-determination.

And we’re spending our time fighting about what the words “I hope” really mean????

UM. Who’s on top of the whole “we-have-to-protect-our-electoral-process” problem?

And my second thought is this one. We just heard the former FBI director state in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee that the President of the United States is a big, fat liar.

In what universe would this NOT be a huge, outrageous, earth shattering revelation?

Well, in this one. In the world where the vast majority of Americans know that the President lies every damn day. Where the entire Republican Party simply accepts that he lies and doesn’t really object to that fact.

The. President. Was. Called. A. Liar. On. National. TV.

And that’s not the headline????

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And finally, I am left with this question.

What in God’s name are we supposed to tell our children when they ask about America, and about our democratic system? How are we supposed to explain to them that the Russian could mess up our election, that our President could be widely known to be a liar, and that our government is completely wrapped up in pointing fingers instead of circling the wagons and trying to get the DAMN RUSSIANS out of our elections.

Sigh.

This overwhelmed Nonni doesn’t even know where to begin with this crap.

(Featured image by Thierry Ehermann via Flickr.)

Why I wish my fifth graders were running things.


I wrote this article today for LiberalAmerica. It’s about how I loved teaching fifth graders to become good citizens and caring members of a thriving community (our classroom).

In the article, I compare the behavior and the beliefs of these very young children to what goes on in Washington. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that the kids come out on top every single time.

It would be great if you could read and share this article.

I really, truly, believe that it is an important lesson for all of us.

Thanks!

Nonni

Why I Wish My Fifth Graders Were Running the Country.

 

And Then There Were Two


When I finally, after a lot of struggles, had my first baby, I fell madly and deeply in love.

She was perfect. She was beautiful and smart and incredible and breathtaking. In my entire life, I’d never felt such a deep love. Ever.

Then some time went by, and we wanted to have another child. It was an abstract idea. We loved being parents, we loved our girl so much.

Let’s do this again!

Then, at last, after even more struggles, I found myself pregnant again. I was thrilled, of course. I was delighted.

Right up until the little one started to move around in there, and it suddenly hit me, right between the eyes.

“Oh, my God.” I realized with complete shock. “I can never, ever, ever love another child as much as I love Kate.”

Oh, crap. What had I DONE?

What would I do? How would I ever be able to cover up the fact that I simply could not possibly love number two as much I adored number one?

I suffered in silence for a few weeks.

Then I gave birth to my son.

My perfect son. He was beautiful and smart and incredible and breathtaking. I fell head over heels in love.

Well, lookit that. You can love more than one child just as deeply and just as intensely.

When I was pregnant with baby number three, I didn’t worry at all. I knew that my crazy, loopy, besotted love would just multiply itself like magic. And it did.

So why have I been worried for the past three months about grandchild number two?

I mean, I’m supposed to be the expert here! I should already understand this stuff. My daughter, the mother of both babies, was her usual serene, happy self. She wasn’t worried at all.

But me. The Nonni. The one who should be the glue, the center, all that stuff…..Why was I waking up at 2AM thinking “Oh, my God! I can never ever, ever, ever love another child as much as I love Ellie!”

I felt guilty months in advance. I stayed awake at night, trying to formulate my response when my daughter asked me why I didn’t love her second child as much as her first. I had no answer.

I tried to love him, this unborn boy, in advance. But all I could think was, “Now it won’t be me and my beloved Ellie here every day.” I was sad. I was conflicted.

I was a crazy, neurotic nutburger of a grandmother.

And then, suddenly, as if I hadn’t planned for it for months, I got that middle of the night call. “Hey! It’s time to have a baby!”

And off I raced, to spend the night with Ellie while her parents went to have the baby. I paced, I prayed, I worried. And deep in my heart, a funny little golden spark began to fizz and crackle.

The next day, while I was giving Ellie her lunch, I got the message. Baby John was born and healthy and my daughter was doing just fine.

We gave it a little bit of time, one last me-and-Ellie-nap, and then we went up to see them.

That tiny boy. So perfect. So beautiful. His dark blue eyes trying hard to stare back at me. His tiny lips in a bow of concentration. His soft hair and silky skin.

One look. One touch. One kiss.

I was in love. Head over heels. Madly and deeply in love.

Why does this still surprise me?

Love is the most powerful force on earth. I wonder why that still surprises me.

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